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By Brian Robin

Martin Noyes Successfully Wrestles A Directing Challenge

Martin Noyes wanted it to be clear from the outset. He’s not a fan of violence for violence sake. Gratuitous, senseless violence offends him on every level. Personally, and professionally.

That personal disclaimer established, this would be a good time to establish Noyes’ profession. When he’s not teaching Act II: Scene Study in the SCR Adult Conservatory, he’s a fight director. At SCR, he's choreographed fights for Nothing Sacred, Bach at Leipzig, Ridiculous Fraud, Pig Farm, System Wonderland and The Prince and ThePauper. Noyes also appeared as a child actor in A Christmas Caroland Galileo, and as an adult in Hitchcock Blonde.

“My job is to create options for physical violence on stage. … My job as fight director is to make sure people believe what is happening on stage,” he said.

And a job Noyes is very good at. He was just nominated for an Orange County Theatre Guild Award for Fight Direction, courtesy of his work on The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, which played last fall at the Chance Theater. Noyes directed the scenes involving wrestlers pummeling and beating on each other in the wrestling ring.

It was one of the most challenging roles Noyes has ever tackled. Not just because choreographing wrestling is far more complex than it looks, but because Noyes had to choreograph for actors in a realistic manner that didn’t result in broken bones, torn muscles or even the slightest injury.

And Noyes had to do this with actors pulling off these dangerous moves more than any pro wrestlers. On top of that, choreographing wrestling is far more complex than, say, Robin Hood’s or D’Artagnan’s swashbuckling adventures with swords. There, you have a well-established playbook actors can familiarize themselves relatively easily.

“That was probably my biggest challenge,” he said. “How do I get these moves that were designed to be done one or two times a week to be done seven or eight times a week?

“I had to do a lot of research and work to understand the differences between the wrestling action of the play and how to know when to insert the values of safety through stage combat. This show was a very challenging show. How to properly do the scorpion hold or power bomb and how to properly achieve the acrobatics in the show. I was actually referencing and consulting with friends who choreograph pro wrestling and consulting books and videos to catch safety values. I had to go back to my basics to pull that stuff off.”

Also keep in mind Noyes had to do this on a stage, not an arena with a spring-loaded floor designed to absorb much of the shock of a body slam or leap off the top rope. Low-hanging lighting and a floor without much give preclude that.

“We had to keep safety and the integrity of the show alive on a show where techniques go against some of the techniques we have in regular stage combat,” he said. “We had to bridge that gap, while adhering to the physical ability of the actors. Most actors can’t do a triple-flip off the top rope, nor would I expect them to. But the Chance provided us a top-notch wrestling ring. Having to modify and change what we did based on the environment was challenging.”

That safety factor, what Noyes calls “the value of safety,” is a constant. It’s one of three factors that dictate his job as a fight director.

“Part of the process that goes into fight directing is always keeping the value of safety at all times,” he said. You never can let go of the safety factor. That’s the most important thing that has to be taken into consideration: the mental, physical and emotional safety of the actors and everyone involved. I’m the advocate for the actors and for the show, making sure they are comfortable pulling off the violent actions.

“Second thing is I’m kind of the go-between between the actors and the director. I’m trying to utilize the director’s vision and understand the concept as best I can, then move forward. … Next, I take that and talk to the actor. What does your character want to accomplish in that moment? Be specific. Do you want to kill, murder, maim, disrespect? Based on what they say, I can generate a number of tactical values on how they can go about achieving that.”

“Martin definitely kicks butt at directing others to kick butt,” Chance Theater Managing Director Casey Long said.  

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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